Despite Positive Numbers, We're Still Not Out of the Woods

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Last week, we saw encouraging fourth quarter and year-end financial results from club companies Town Sports International and Life Time Fitness as well as manufacturer Cybex International. That means the recession is over and we can go back to where we were five years ago, right? Think again.

The leaders at TSI and Life Time, although pleased with their companies' performance, said as much last week. TSI CEO Bob Giardina called credit markets "very turbulent and unpredictable" in his remarks to analysts. Before describing how excited TSI is about the strong fitness trends in the United States, Giardina warned, "We know that 2012 will not be without its challenges, and we have not seen a noticeable lift in the overall consumer spending or sentiment."

During his Q-and-A session with analysts, Life Time CEO Bahram Akradi was blunt when asked if lower unemployment across the country was starting to help his business.

"When you say lower unemployment, I think you're listening to the media a little too much," Akradi said. "It's maybe what, 0.2 percent, 0.5 percent [improvement]? We don't see that. We feel that in order for us to get the memberships we're getting, we have to fight for every single one."

Akradi later added: "You have to look at it in a macro level, and in a macro level, we really have to work hard. I'm not seeing any sort of a macro-ease on how the business [has] come into our space."

A few weeks ago, I asked a similar question to Martin Sinozich, a Planet Fitness franchisee who has helped form a new franchisee association. Before owning Planet Fitness clubs, Sinozich worked in finance and technology.

I began my question with something along the lines of, "Now that we're turning the corner and the recession may be behind us..."

"I think you're optimistic about the recovery," Sinozich said before referencing a recent remark from the Federal Reserve, which said it is going to be three more years before we see real economic recovery.

"I happen to share that opinion," Sinozich added. "I think we've got several more years of hard times ahead of us."

A year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a blog post about a "60 Minutes" report on the "99ers," a group of people who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. On Sunday, "60 Minutes" did another report on the long-term unemployed and of one Connecticut man's efforts to create internships to help them get back to work.

These were professional, college-educated unemployed people, too. Their lives are still a mess. They've been out of work for more than a year. One of them got a job blowing leaves. You could see their hopes fading. Then, when some of them talked about how they turned their internships into jobs, you could see a light rekindle in their eyes.

Do you see that light?

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